Boukje van Gelder

about being scared to sing

"I also play a little bit of piano"

10.38. The train to Den Bosch leaves and I’m sitting in between the compartments with my cello. Of course this is an extraordinary happening for some people and therefore they usually start to talk to me. The woman with whom I share the no-really-a-compartment asks me: “Do you study cello?” I tell her I study music, specifically singing, but that the cello is here just for fun. “So interesting”, she says, “I also play a little bit of piano.”

Rubbish at singing

Musicians hear this often and sometimes find it annoying. But if you think of it, these are just people that feel connected to the thing you do, because they also love making music. when I say I’m a singer in my Master’s the response I get is often different. A frequently heard response is: “So cool! You don’t want to hear me sing, I’m awful.” So when you say you play an instrument, people are very keen on telling they also play a little bit of any musical instrument, but when you’re a singer people don’t know how soon they can tell you that they are rubbish at that.

This phenomena interests me as a vocal teacher. When people tell me they can’t sing, I immediately wonder: ok, but do they like it? Because maybe when they’re home alone they sing along loudly with their favourite music during the dishes. And maybe it’s not even that horrific, only one time they were caught by another family member who laughed and told them they sing so very out of tune!

picture of man and girl with cello

The selected few with the golden voice?

If you recognise yourself in this story, you’re not on your own. Lot’s of people make from singing something that is only reserved for the selected few. Think of how many people play on the grand pianos in the train stations in the Netherlands! Would you stand there and sing just because you have a few minutes left before your train goes? Why do we dare to play a musical instrument in public without even practicing one minute, but are we scared our family hears us singing in the shower? In choirs people are afraid that their neighbours might hear what they’re doing and even I hate it when people listen to me when I’m studying.

What if singing wasn’t something for the selected few with the golden vocal chords? What if singing in the train station would be just as normal as playing the piano?. What if you weren’t always punished by your environment for singing out of tune a little bit or creaking your voice?

There is one thing we all tend to forget when we talk about singing: it needs training.

picture of a man singing out of tune and family

Sing like Usain Bolt

Because there is one thing we all tend to forget when we talk about singing and that is that it needs training. Training of the ear and the vocal chords to make the right pitches. Training of the body to sing these pitches healthily and free. Imagine you didn’t sport for 5 years and now you want start running. You buy running shoes, you take a coach and you start. Then after one training your partner tells you: “You look like a monkey when you run, you’ll never run like Usain Bolt!”

Dare to sing

Singing is a skill, a skill you can train and learn. The most important thing is that you dare to sing and that you experiment with what your voice can do. You’re not hopeless, less than 5 percent of the people really isn’t musical.¹ Vocal lessons can help to guide you in your confidence by growing your technique and musical ear. Yes, you will sing out of tune now and then, yes you will sometimes make a croaking sound. And no, it’s highly likely you will not become the next Beyoncé or Maria Callas. But that doesn’t mean that you’re rubbish, you can’t learn anything and you can’t have fun!

Are you motivated to sing, but still a bit scared?

* (Your family won’t hear you!)

In the next blog I will explore what we think is a ‘beautiful’ voice with examples from different musical styles!

¹Google for example on Amusia or read this blog about learning how to sing in tune.

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